Sandy Irey’s spirt of giving will grow and inspire others at Veterans Memorial Park

Kneeling in the foreground, the children of the late Wayne and Sandy Irey, at the Nov. 9 tree dedication in the Pelican Rapids Veterans Memorial Park. In the background, friends and associates from Pelican Rapids—all with fond memories of Sandy’s service to the community in many and various capacities. Craig Irey, a 1987 Pelican High School graduate; Ann (Irey) and Tom Henderson, (Ann was a 1980 graduate), and Steve Irey, who relocated to the Pelican area after high school, but grew up mainly in the Twin Cities area where the Ireys were before returning to their hometown.

She was a “tree-hugger,” of sorts. But even more so, she was a “Pelican Rapids-hugger.” 

The late Sandy (Albright) Irey will be long remembered as a dedicated citizen and community volunteer—thanks to a special tree that was planted in her honor. Also planted, a plaque beneath the tree, at Pelican’s Veterans Memorial Park. 

On the eve of the holiday season, the memorial tree-planting and  Sandy Irey’s spirit of giving back to the community is especially appropriate. 

More than 30 paid their respects to Sandy Irey at a dedication ceremony Nov. 9, including her three children.

Her civic involvement is almost too extensive to summarize, but one of her most visible accomplishments was the creation of the Pass It On Ministry thrift store, which she helped spearhead with a number of other volunteers. 

Leading the ceremony was Pass It On board officer David Hilber. Though a transplant to the Pelican area himself, Hilber quickly learned how “active and vivacious” Sandy was. 

“She was active right up until a couple years ago with the Pass It On store,” said Hilber. 

Blessing the tree were pastors from Trinity Lutheran Church, which was near and dear to Sandy. Rev. Eric Schwirian and pastoral assistant Allen Westby represented Trinity. 

“We think of Sandy as how much she loved the outdoors, and being part of God’s creation,” said Westby, who noted that her legacy is a reminder to all to remember, and follow her commitment to community service. 

Shirley Ralston recalled the campaign to launch the thrift store ministry, along with Don Rapske and others. 

“We wanted it to be a ministry, to sell useable clothing at practically give-away prices,” said Shirley. The group of volunteers, for the most part connected to Trinity Lutheran, “decided to play store,” laughed Ralston, and if “we accidentally made some money,” it would be donated to charitable causes at a rate of a third locally, a third in the area, and another third globally. 

“That little store has given a lot away,” said Ralston. 

“It is so very appropriate to have a tree planted in memory of Sandy,” wrote Don Rapske, in a note that was read at the program. “God bless you all for making it happen.”

A Pelican native herself, and graduate of Pelican Rapids High school in 1957, she and late husband Wayne were in the Twin Cities for much of their early married and family life. But they returned to the old hometown in 1977, and left their mark on the community in enumerable ways ever since. 

David Hilber, Pass It On Ministry, welcoming crowd to a special ceremony honoring civic leader and volunteer, the late Sandy Irey.

“A unique person, who did so many things behind the scenes that nobody knew about,” is how Mayor Brent Frazier described Sandy. 

Her love of trees, and the general beautification of Pelican Rapids was well known, said Frazier. This was reflected in her work with the Pelican city park board and the Oktoberfest committee, which has been raising funds for beautification projects for more than 20 years.

“We actually had a few disagreements,” chuckled Brian Olson, city public works and parks superintendent—who worked with Sandy not only when she was a park board member, but also with the Trinity church property board. 

“We all know how she loved trees,” said daughter Ann (Irey) Henderson. 

“Mom’s last project,” as Ann described it, is along the Pelican River, across the bridge and near the woods—west of the Veterans Memorial Park. 

“It was overgrown, you couldn’t see the river…but it was a beautiful stretch of river,” said Ann. Sandy helped campaign for the city to acquire the riverfront area, which was brushed and cleared out for another scenic view of the river her beloved community was named after. 

“I hope we can all sit under the shade of this tree in 20 years,” said Ann, standing by the young tree that will bloom and grow in Sandy’s honor for years to come.

In addition to community members, fellow parishioners at Trinity Lutheran, Pass It On Ministry friends and others, staff from Pelican Valley Health Center who cared for her were also on hand for the tree dedication. 

Sandy died in February 2021, and was preceeded in death by husband Wayne. 

As noted in Irey’s obituary, she followed in her father’s footsteps when she returned to Pelican in 1977—serving as Secretary/Treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce, a position she held for 20 years. 

She was involved with the committee that built the public swimming pool campaign back in the 1970s. She was a member of the Community Service Club, Oktoberfest Committee, and Trinity Lutheran Church Property Board. As a member of the Park Board, Sandy helped spearhead the development of the Veterans Memorial River Park. 

In 2007, Sandy received the Chamber of Commerce Pride Award.

Sandy was an outdoorswoman. She loved deer hunting, skiing, fishing, and gardening. Some of her adventures include whitewater rafting through the Grand Canyon; salmon fishing on Lake Michigan; skiing in Colorado; horseback riding in Maplewood State Park and the Boundary Waters; and deep-sea fishing off the coasts of Florida and Bermuda.